A Doctor Talks Different Types Of Alternative Medicine

    Traditional medicine techniques have been around for over 2000 years. Some techniques have evolved, taking up the knowledge of modern medicine to find a balance between old and new. In recent years, some of these techniques have been recognized by the World Health Organization, and guidelines of treatments and levels of recommendation have been established. Great results for some of these practices have been proven on various conditions, like cardiovascular diseases, chronic pain, and mental illness. I had my first encounter with the different types of alternative medicine only two years ago. My curiosity was sparked as soon as I saw positive results. I began to look into the practices and schools of thought a little more to find out some of the history & practices. Here are some of them: 

    6 Types Of Schools Of Alternative Medicine

    1. Naturopathy

    Natural healing has been practiced since the beginning of human history. Traditionally, every race has different techniques to heal people in natural ways. Naturopathy uses techniques passed on through generations by shamans, herbalists, healers; combines them with the knowledge of medicine gained in the past 100 years. Modern medicine focuses on the symptoms of the disease and how to treat them. Naturopathy claims to focus on prevention and the overall quality of the body. The principle of this type of alternative medicine is that the body is capable of fighting disease and on its own. Supporting the individual as they heal themself with the use of diet, exercise, herbal remedies, and other natural remedies. Naturopaths act as teachers to their patients, explaining to them the benefits of the practices and letting them make an informed decision. 

    Some of the practices of naturopathy include: Herbal medicine TCM, acupuncture, homeopathy, Ayurveda, osteopathy, massages, nutritional supplements and, dietary advice

    I will be explaining some of these techniques and benefits in this article and I will be using clinical studies as proof of their results. 

    2. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

    Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, is an ancient practice originating from China. It was not until 2014 that TCM was recognized by the World Health Organization as a form of medicine. Getting to an agreement on the different practices that involve TCM was a challenge that took years.

    TCM is based on the theory about qi, the vital energy, the qi flows in the body through channels called meridians that are connected to organs and functions. Unlike western medicine that is based on anatomy concepts, TCM is based on functions (breathing, temperature maintenance, digestion, etc.); these functions are associated with a primary functional entity which are the qì, xuě, the five zàng organs, the six fǔ organs, and the meridians. 

    Another important concept, to understand a bit better, how TCM works is Yin and Yang. Ying Yang is two separate opposite but complementary abstract concepts that every phenomenon in the universe can be divided into. Examples of this will be temperature, genders, locations, and directions. 

    In TCM, the concept of disease is an imbalance between the primary functional entities. This imbalance can be caused by Yin or Yang phenomenons. The diagnosis of the disease is achieved by different methods:

    • Inspection: focuses on the face and particularly on the tongue, including analysis of the tongue size, shape, tension, color, and coating, and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge
    • Auscultation: listening to particular sounds
    • Olfaction: body odor
    • Inquiry focuses: asking the person about the regularity and severity of chills, fever, perspiration, appetite, thirst, taste, defecation, urination, pain, sleep
    • Palpation: feeling the body for tender points, and the palpation pulses and the abdomen.

    The most common technique is tongue and pulse analysis. Your TCM doctor will look for details on the tongue such as color, texture, size, cracks, and tongue coating. The tongue findings are believed to be related to the function of specific organs. The pulse analysis involves measuring the pulse at three different locations, for a total of 12 pulses, all of which are thought to correspond with certain zàng organs. Learning how to do the tongue and pulse analysis can take years and it is a valuable skill.

    Once the diagnosis is made, there are different approaches to the correct treatments. Techniques will vary depending on the experience, preference, and training of your doctor. It is important to highlight that TCM can be done by both physicians and trained non-physicians. Some of the techniques are:

    3. Herbal Medicine 

    Medicinal herbs have been used in humans to treat diseases for thousands of years. Even though the concept of herbal medicine is not widely accepted, most of these herbs have been proved to have important pharmacological properties. This type of alternative medicine utilizes a mixture of herbal plants or extracts which comprise hundreds of different constituents. One of the main approaches of TCM is to improve immunity and resistance to diseases and improve quality of life. Studies have shown the benefits and results of herbal medicine to treat different conditions like anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular diseases. Herbal components have been proven to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and metabolism regulatory effects. One notable product that has emerged from TCM is artemisinin. The molecule is now a powerful treatment for malaria, won YouYou Tu the nobel prize in physiology or medicine in 2015. 

    TCM is new to the western world, and many have been said about the need to create regulations for all herbal products. The truth is there is still not a full understanding of how each of the molecules present in this formulation work. Consumer education is critical to ensure the safe administration of these botanical drugs. Always consult with a professional first.

    4. Acupuncture

    This ancient technique has become popular over the last 10 years, a report shows that at least 50% of the USA utilizes acupuncture and traditional medicine treatments. Acupuncture is based on the fact that the qi should flow freely in the body. Depending on the condition that is being treated, the flow of the qi can be obstructed. During acupuncture, needles are placed on specific areas to restore the flow of the qi. Acupuncture has shown results on the central and peripheral nervous systems. Studies have been done by utilizing magnetic resonance, the effect of acupuncture in different areas of the brain has been identified. An increase in the release of serotonin (the happiness hormone) and endorphins, as well as a decrease in proinflammatory signals. Acupuncture changes the way our brain interprets pain signals. Although it can be used for endless conditions, the most popular use is to treat chronic pain. Western medicine has limited options when it comes to dealing with chronic pain; acupuncture has been proven to not only alleviate the pain after the session, but the results will last up to 12 weeks post-treatment. Another condition that seems to be highly beneficial from this type of alternative medicine is migraines. Migraines are a very difficult condition to manage, characterized by strong headaches. When studying groups of patients, studies have shown that acupuncture had better results preventing and controlling migraines than traditional medication.

    Other TCM techniques include meditating, massages and cupping. I worked in a clinic that had a physician acupuncturist and herbalist from China. I must admit I was very skeptical of her work at first. One day I saw a woman who could barely walk come inside her treatment room, she had fibromyalgia, an inflammatory condition that causes a lot of pain. An hour later I saw the woman leaving the acupuncturist’s office walking, with no pain, and extremely grateful to the doctor. That is when it piqued my interest. I became friends with the doctor and I will always ask her questions about her work, which sparked an interest that made me read different articles trying to find evidence that supports TCM, and I was not disappointed. Not only the results are visible, but studies, clinical trials as a review show the benefits of TCM.

    5. Homeopathy

    Homeopathy was created by physician Samuel Hahnemann in 1796 in Germany. Doctor Hahnemann rejected the traditional practices of medicine. The base of homeopathy is that a substance that causes symptoms of a disease in a healthy person can cure similar symptoms in sick people. Preparations called remedies are used as treatments, or a type of alternative medicine. These remedies contain a selected substance, specific to the disease that is being treated. For example, if a substance causes headaches in a healthy human being, homeopathy believes that this substance then will be able to cure headaches in sick patients. The selected substance is diluted repeatedly until the chemical product cannot be distinguished from the diluent. Doctor Hahnemann claimed that the substances needed to be diluted because they can be toxic in their pure form. Practitioners claim that the remedies, when consumed orally, can treat or cure a disease. Homeopath practitioners will perform a consultation, followed by medical history. The patient describes their symptoms. Practitioners also ask about preferences, dislikes, and moods. A remedy will be made depending on each person’s concern. 

    Homeopathy became popular in the USA during 1800, and surprisingly still popular to this day. There is no scientific evidence to back up homeopathy. There are not enough studies that explain how the substances truly work and fail to meet the scientific standards. Many clinical trials have proven that homeopathy remedies have no evidence of any therapeutic effects. It is believed that its “benefits” are only placebo effects. 

    6. Ayurveda 

    Is one of the oldest healing systems, with over 3000 years of history since its invention in India. Just like TCM, Ayurveda beliefs that health depends on the delicate balance between mind, spirit, and body. Its main goal is to promote health more than fighting diseases in particular. Ayurveda is considered a complementary type of alternative medicine in the United States.

    Ayurveda practitioners believe that every person has the five elements found in the universe (water, air, earth, fire, and space). Everything in the universe is connected; therefore the body, mind, and spirit are in harmony with the universe when we are healthy. If this balance is broken, we get sick. To treat diseases and to prevent them, Ayurveda uses a combination of techniques, form exercises, dietary changes, and herbal remedies.

    Evidence shows positive effects from Ayurveda treatments for health. Some studies have shown positive outcomes when using Ayurveda techniques to treat inflammatory diseases like arthritis. However, unlike acupuncture and TCM, there is not enough evidence to prove its effectiveness.

    As shown above, they are endless techniques when it comes to the different types of alternative medicine. The effectiveness of them variates from practice to practice. Modern medicine has taken on the challenge of finding ways to prove if these techniques work, and how they do it. Some of them like acupuncture and TCM have a lot of evidence backing up their results, showing improvement when dealing with chronic pain, mental illness, and cardiovascular diseases. Other techniques like homeopathy have no evidence that shows any benefits from it. When choosing any of these methods, I recommend you visit an expert on the matter, preferably a physician with knowledge on these areas. Do not try to take on any treatments or herbal remedies without any guidance. When done wrong, they can be toxic and dangerous. Overall, some traditional medicine techniques represent an alternative to treat some medical conditions.

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